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old gods do new jobs

Start the Overture: 11 Sandman Stories You Can Read If You Haven’t Read Any Sandman

If you ask female comics fans what brought them into the medium, there are a number of titles that you will hear quite often. The X-Men are popular gateway characters, as well as Batman and the work of Rumiko Takahashi and Alan Moore. But you’ll also hear women say that trade collections of Neil Gaiman‘s The Sandman was what got them hooked on comics in large numbers.

This week, Gaiman himself returns to the seventy-five issue series, completed in 1996, with a prologue miniseries The Sandman: Overture, and as the series is one I’ll recommend to anyone, and comixology has put the entire thing on sale for $1 per issue, I thought I’d offer a list of contained single issue stories that don’t spoil parts of the main plot of Sandman.

This list was partially inspired by Paste Magazine‘s, but with an added focus on issues that you can read whether or not you’ve already read The Sandman in its entirety. That’s not to say that none of the stuff that happens in these stories is inconsequential to the overall story of The Sandman. To the contrary, there’s almost no part of Sandman that isn’t in some small way instrumental to its final climax. However, none of these stories will give anything away, or require any knowledge of what’s happened earlier in the series. You can read free (well, for $1) whether you’ve started the series or not.

This brief tale of myth explains the conflict that comes about when one of the Endless falls in love with a mortal.

The introduction to one of my favorite Sandman characters, Hob Gadling.

Readers of Sandman are often lured into a false sense of security under which they forget that it draws heavily on American comics’ horror tradition. This story (warning: contains rape) reminds you, and is the reason why I knew about bezoars years before Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

It’s hard to say much about this one without spoiling it, but it does contain a prime example of how the Endless look different depending on who is doing the looking.

Dream and Shakespeare, in their first collaboration.

Though The Sandman took place within DC comics continuity, it rarely showed explicitly. This is one of those stories.

Dream enlists Johanna Constantine (ancestor of John) to perform a task for him in dangerous post-revolutionary France.

A story of the trials of an Emperor. (Also contains rape.)

A supernatural explanation for the curious madness of one of my favorite “Yes they were a real person” historical figures.

A grandfather tells his granddaughter a story inspired by Slavic folklore, and yes that is literally all I can say about it without spoiling it.

A strange story about the wanderings of Marco Polo.

If you read only one of these… Well I love Hob Gadling too much to tell you not to read his story, but seriously, “Ramadan” is a beautifully crafted, beautifully drawn story about mythology and the small gifts that it gives to reality.

So, if you’re wondering what The Sandman is all about, you can get a good sense of it with these stories (and for just about $10, if you get your butt in gear this week). If you’ve already read it and know it’s your thing, let this list serve as a reminder to pick it up tomorrow. Rest assured we will have a review for you Thursday!


  • Hannele Kormano

    For the curious, if you find yourself unsure as to what Gaiman made up vs. what is a reference (it is really hard to tell sometimes!), here are a couple of handy guides. The first is briefer, and focused on references to other DC comics, along with commentary on the state of continuity at the time it was being written (i.e. pretty damn ugly). The second is more extensive and also includes references to mythology etc.

    That said, these should only help deepen your appreciation – you shouldn’t need knowledge outside of the text to enjoy reading Sandman!

  • Gordon Borland

    I was always fond of the seasons of the mist issue that introduced the dead boy detectives.

  • Mike Chen

    Tangential to this, if you’re in northern California, San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum has a Gaiman/Sandman retrospective going on until March.

  • Anonymous

    RE: Facade: There’s another great Sandman-Within-DC moment in The Wake. Clark Kent, Batman, and J’onn J’onzz are standing together, chatting. “Do you ever have a dream where you’re a character in a television version of your own life?” asks Bats (it could be supes, I don’t recall). Kent replies “All the time.” J’onn says “I don’t.”

  • Laura Truxillo

    Not that the dead boy detectives aren’t fun, but that was always a rough read for me, just for what happened BEFORE dead boy got dead.

  • Gordon Borland

    Oh I know I just love the closing page so much though, it’s a fairly optimistic ending compared to what proceeds it.

  • Anonymous

    Great list. I’m so excited for this. Cannot wait! :D

    FYI: “August” also depicts rape. Please include that warning in the description.

  • Starman

    I’d also include The Sandman Special. The story of Orpheus, told with the addition of the Endless, has gotten many a Greek mythology fan into Sandman.

  • Anonymous

    Oof, thanks for the reminder. I have edited.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for being conscientious! :)